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Thunder is better prepared this time for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum

by Berry Tramel Published: May 13, 2012

Less than 3 1/2 minutes into the Thunder's first playoff game ever, 7-footer Pau Gasol threw a pass at the basket, and 7-footer Andrew Bynum skied to easily dunk the ball.

Uh-oh, thought everyone in Thunder blue. Just exactly how is the Thunder supposed to stop that?

Seemed like a quick series was inevitable, and though the Thunder hung tough in April 2010, taking the series to six games, no ever thought the Lakers were vulnerable.

That has changed. The Thunder team that awaits the Lakers in a Western Conference semifinal series that begins Monday night is different from those Baby Boomers of two years ago.

This Thunder team is not an upstart. Not seeking an upset. This Thunder team has legit championship aspirations. And this Thunder team was built to beat LA.

That Thunder team started Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green opposite Bynum and Gasol. This Thunder team starts Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.

Big difference. Big, big difference. Krstic was an adequate offensive center but defensively deficient. Green could score but was outmanned trying to stop big or skilled power forwards, and Gasol is both big and skilled.

Thunder mastermind Sam Presti knew that the road to NBA titles has been going through Los Angeles for 40 years. He knew Bynum or Gasol or both would be Lakers for years to come.

So Presti shipped Green to Boston for Perkins, the NBA's best post defender, and signed him to a four-year contract extension.

That trade has paid off handsomely over the last 15 months. But at no time is it more valuable than now, with another Thunder-Laker series on the starting line.

With Ibaka having grown up from a 20-year-old rookie in that first Laker series to now the league's best shot blocker, the Thunder goes into this series more able than any other NBA squad to match up with the Laker stars.

Now as then, the Thunder has Thabo Sefolosha, who can't stop Kobe Bryant but dogs the Laker legend well. But that beefed up interior defense has elevated the Thunder to championship contender.

Perk's value does not show against every opponent. He would have been only marginally helpful against the Denver jackrabbits. There were times when he wasn't needed against Dallas.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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